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FESTIVAL IN THE BIG SMOKE
The last month has been crazy so this is the first chance I’ve had to put a post up about the London Film Festival, which ended at the end of October. Because I was freelancing and then away, I didn’t go to many films this year. The LFF, unlike Cannes and Toronto, is not a film market and one of its main purposes is to showcase film for the cinemagoing public. It has also created buzz for a number of significant British films the last few years: Slumdog Millionaire and An Education were helped by their showings at the LFF. It is a fantastic festival and I look forward to attending it each year.
The first film I caught was The King’s Speech, a drama starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter and directed by Tom Hooper. Now Firth, while a likeable actor, usually just bumbles through his roles but here as the future King George VI, afflicted with a terrible stammer, he is playing against type. Geoffrey Rush plays antipodean exile Lionel Logue, who is brought in by George’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, to try to help him overcome this problem. Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth is actually quite good, acting as a decent foil for Firth. TV veteran director Hooper (Cold Feet, Elizabeth I) brings an assured touch here, humanising the Royals and with a perfect eye for period detail, thanks to Eve Stewart’s sumptuous production design, lifts The King’s Speech above more than just the usual Royal-focused film with an eye to attracting American audiences. Rush is superb as the man who becomes George’s friend, determined to help him out despite the protestations of the Archbishop of Canterbury and King George himself. Guy Pearce, who plays Edward VIII, the monarch who resigned and went to live with Mrs Wallis Simpson, makes his role go a decent way and his arrogance is a nice counterpoint to George’s warmth. There is talk of Oscar nods for The King’s Speech and it would certainly be warranted…
Next up is Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder. This is a film that has attracted much speculation and divided audiences who have seen it. Portman plays Nina, a classical dancer who is offered the role of the prima ballerina in a new production of Swan Lake after their principal dancer Beth Macintyre (Ryder) leaves. Vincent Cassel is svengali Thomas Leroy, the head of the ballet company, who isn’t convinced that Nina is capable of playing both the White Swan and the more evil counterpart, the Black Swan, in Swan Lake. So Nina becomes obsessed with trying to pin down the other role, with her life seemingly falling to pieces around her. Black Swan looks incredible, dark and menacing, but the problem here is that Portman’s Nina is an obnoxious, narcissistic and unsympathetic character, so when the film ends on a low note, because the audience can’t empathise with her, it leaves you feeling quite cold. None of the other characters are particularly likeable either with Cassel a bit of a shit who had a fling with Beth before the company got rid of her and only Lilly (Kunis), who befriends Nina, comes across as remotely human. So Black Swan works as a technical exercise and there’s no denying Aronofsky’s prowess as a director but it’s clinical and rather portentous in places with a protagonist that you never really get to care about.…
Finally there’s 127 Hours, directed by Danny Boyle with James Franco, Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn. Boyle is an incredible director, able to turn his hand to everything from hedonistic drama (Trainspotting) to post-apocalyptic zombie horror (28 Days Later). He is a very stylish director who knows how to entertain his audience. 127 Hours recounts the true-life story of Aron Ralston (James Franco) an American adrenalin junkie who decides one weekend to take a biking, hiking and climbing trip out to the middle of nowhere in Utah but comes unstuck when he gets trapped in a canyon when a rock falls and pins his arm. It’s interesting that 2010 has seen the release of this as well as Buried but the two films are approached in a very different way. Only Danny Boyle could make a film about a man trapped in a canyon for several days and still make it entertaining. 127 Hours looks fantastic with the Utah scenery captured incredibly on camera, thanks to the cinematography of Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle (the latter he worked with on Slumdog Millionaire). James Franco, on who this film stands or falls, is also pretty convincing as he transforms from a man only interested in making himself happy to someone a little more aware of his friends and family. Boyle could have made a crowdpleasing followup to Slumdog after the worldwide success of that film but it is to his eternal credit that he picked what comes across as a very personal project. The world of modern cinema would be a poorer place with Boyle making films in it and 127 Hours is an engaging, tense and ultimately uplifting movie…
I was lucky enough to go to the press conference for 127 Hours so here’s a few shots from that…



THE END OF THE FESTIVAL SHOW
So there were two more films I saw as part of the LFF that I have yet to post reviews of. One, The Brothers Bloom, was disappointing but the other, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, was great. The Brothers Bloom is the followup to Rian Johnson’s Brick, a noirish teen drama from 2006 that I thought worked very well. This film deals with the brothers in the title, Bloom and Stephen played respectively by Adrien Brody and Mark Rufalo, who are a pair of con artists who spent their childhoods moved from pillar to post from one set of foster parents to another. As adults, they have garnered a reputation as the best in their field but Bloom (Brody) has had enough and wants to quit. So he leaves his brother, who tracks him down for one last job and the mark this time happens to be rich eccentric Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). The problem is that Brody falls for her and she joins the brothers in their escapades, or does she? The Brothers Bloom is a film of two different tones: it starts life as a light heist movie, like a pastiche of a sixties movie and then moves into sub-Mamet territory and this is its biggest flaw. The two halves don’t gel and the change of tone is very jarring. Brody and Rufalo are a good team and Weisz is kookily sexy but it doesn’t hold together as a single film. It may be that difficult second movie syndrome and perhaps Johnson may get it more together for his next project…
Slumdog Millionaire
is Danny Boyle’s latest film and after the disappointing sci-fi thriller Sunshine, Boyle has some ground to make up. Slumdog Millionaire is based on the novel Q&A and deals with protagonist Jamal, played by Skins’ Dev Patel, who comes from the slums of Mumbai who happens to get onto India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He scoops the top prize of 20 million rupees but is accused of cheating. So the film looks at his journey as a child in the slums of the city, his travails with his brother Salim and his unrequited love for gorgeous Latika, who falls in with gangsters towards the end of the story. Boyle kicks off with footage from the TV show and intersperses this with Jamal’s brutal interrogation at the hands of the Mumbai police and his life story. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy is best known for writing The Full Monty but he displays a greater emotional range here while Boyle shows us a Mumbai of so many different colours and textures but never falls into the easy trap of sugar-coating any of the settings. Jamal and Salim have had a pretty horrendous life, losing ther mother in a raid by Hindus in the slum when they were very young and being forced to live at an oprhanage run by the villainous Maman. Patel and Mittal, who plays his doomed brother, are excellent as is Anil Kapoor, who is the host on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Prem. Slumdog Millionaire works because it gives us a snapshot of modern Mumbai and its recent past and takes an idea that seems simple but invests it with humour, pathos and depth. It was the closing gala film at the London Film Festival and I am very glad I went to see it…